Chapter Twenty-Eight – Last Play
The battle is raging. This is briefly mentioned and then Stanek switches back to what we really want to read about, which is Adrina. She’s explaining to Vilmos and Galan how Keeper Martin and Adylton managed to persuade all of the sailors to join them in the battle. She doesn’t explain how they managed to persuade the sailors, except for a brief mention of gold along with a vague fear of falling under the rule of King Jarom. Which is great, except there’s no reason why the sailors would mind being under the rule of King Jarom. Yeah, he’s trying to take over the country, but there hasn’t been a single shred of evidence that he would be anything but an exemplary king. In fact, Jarom seems like a very shrewd, cunning sort of guy, just the chap you’d want running the kingdom; rather than King Andrew, who’s kind’ve a dumbass.
Not to mention that it is very hard to persuade mercenaries to join a rather suicidal battle, or any battle in which they’re not guaranteed a victory. You have to be alive to spend your gold.
“Surely we cannot just sit here,” Vilmos said. “We must do something.”
“I aim to do something, all right.” Adrina grinned. “And don’t call me Shirley.” (page 368)
Okay, I admit, I made the very last sentence up, but the rest of it is accurate. It seems Adrina has something up her sleeve. A plan, or at least an idea.
She doesn’t. She asks them what the lady told them, and they tell her it had something to do with branches of good and evil. And then the subject switches abruptly to Galan, who is off in her ‘corporeal stasis’ with Seth. And once again I would like to point out how weird the phrase ‘corporeal stasis’ sounds in a high fantasy novel.
Adrina asks if she can see, so Galan projects the image Seth is sending her into Adrina’s mind. She sees that the enemy has broken through the southern gate and is torching buildings. She immediately turns to the fifty men who have been left to guard her and orders them to go join the battle. The leader refuses, because Valam told them to stay and, y’know, guard her. Adrina informs them that if Quashan’ falls, she won’t need any guards at all. Which isn’t exactly true. Losing one city, as bad as that may be, in no way means you’ll lose the war, or your life. They could head back to Imtal, gather up an army, and wipe Jarom out. Or, at least, come to some sort of treaty. I’m guessing Stanek is trying to make it sound like a lot more rides on this battle than actually does.
All of the guards really want to ride off and join the suicidal battle, so they do, leaving six men behind to guard her. They stand around for a bit. Then Vilmos’ eyes glaze over, and after a bit he says that Erravane is in the hills with the Wolmerrelle, looking for Prince William. I have no idea how he knows this. Vilmos hasn’t displayed any previous abilities for scrying.
Adrina wonders aloud why William turned against Great Kingdom. And a voice says that perhaps they know. The guards leap into action, but it turns out to just be Keeper Martin. Great. A badly wounded, pudgy lore-keeper manages to sneak up on six trained guards. Were this a realistic story, Adrina would die messily from this sort of incompetence.
Martin begins to exposit. And it really doesn’t make any sense. I’m not saying this lightly. It honestly, truly, and completely does not make any sense. I’ve read over it six or seven times, and usually after that I can parse through Stanek’s poor writing and get to the actual meaning, hidden behind layers of misunderstanding of the English language. Observe:
“King Charles has passed on. The grippe took Phillip. William is heir. As you can see by the display in the field, there was no contest to his ascension. Yet, I am sure that it is with little pride and no love that the army of Sever sides with Vostok.
“The truth is that I myself did not understand what I had seen in Gregortonn until some hours ago, but by then I thought it too late to act on what I knew. Yet, I can see the error of that now and you are responsible for opening my eyes. [snip] All along I was sure agents of King Jarom had somehow seized power in Sever’s capital, for you see, I saw through the disguises and when I saw banners of green and gold – Kingdom colors – to me such colors were not out of place, but those of Sever knew at once the colors were foreign. [snip] Do you understand?”
“I am beginning to,” Adrina said (pages 372-373).
I don’t. I really don’t. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. I have no idea what the colors mean. Yeah, they would be out of place, but what does this have to do with agents of King Jarom seizing power, or not seizing power? What does this have to do with Gregortonn, and how is any of this related to Sever siding with Vostok, even though they don’t really like each other? None of this is explained.
Martin asks Galan if she can project images into the minds of other people. Galan asks Martin if she can tend to his wounds. Yes. Exactly like that. Galan just ignores Martin’s question, doesn’t even acknowledge that he just asked a question, and Martin himself completely forgets that he even asked it. So Galan sticks her hand into him. No, seriously. Her hand melts right into his flesh and feels around and comes out holding the arrowhead, just like the scene in Matrix: Reloaded where Neo does the exact same thing to fish a bullet out of Trinity’s stomach. In all fairness, this book was written a year before the movie actually came out, so it’s far more likely that Stanek somewhere has accused the Wachowskis of stealing his ideas. Still, at least in the Matrix it was excruciatingly painful for Trinity to have Neo feeling around her intestines, whereas here Martin just sits there chilling out.
Martin looks at Vilmos and says he assumes that Vilmos, like Xith, is capable of using the forbidden magic. Martin doesn’t condone the use of forbidden magic, but he’s okay with it as long as it’s for the greater good. So essentially, he condones the use of it. Martin then turns to Adrina and tells her to braid her hair in a triple braid and put it over her right shoulder. And then he tells one of the short guards to switch clothes with Vilmos. Uh…Vilmos is twelve. I don’t care how short the guard is, the clothes are not going to fit.
Back to the battle. Mikhal is dead. The battle seems hopeless. That’s about it.
Back to Adrina and co. They are marching along with about five guards. Vilmos is holding something that Martin gave him. And he’s keeping watch from overhead. Uh….I would guess he’s tapping into the eagle, which now he is able to control and use from the real world, instead of just from within his dreams. I suppose a scene before now where Vilmos discovers he actually has this ability was too much to ask for.
We finally get an idea of what the plan is:
Keeper Martin’s plan had seemed bold as he had revealed it to them, but now as they moved ever closer to the ranks of Sever’s army, it also seemed suddenly desperate and simple. They were to sneak into William’s camp, find his tent and convince him that Great Kingdom had no part in his father’s death (page 375).
That is a terrible fucking plan.
It does make what Keeper Martin was babbling about previously slightly more clear – I’m guessing he was saying that King Jarom managed to convince Prince William to rebel against Great Kingdom by poisoning William’s father. Using agents. Who were openly wearing green and gold, which would make William think Great Kingdom poisoned his dad. Who, if they were open, would be seen. And therefore they could be stopped before they poisoned anyone. Or, if not, they could be captured afterwards and tortured until they spilled the beans. Anyway, William, being dumb as a sheep, fell for it. Which, even re-reading what Martin said, there is no possible way that a reader would have any clue what he was talking about. Why Stanek didn’t just have Martin come out and tell them what he was thinking, I don’t know. Maybe he thinks it makes the story better if the reader doesn’t know what’s going on.
All that aside, though, it doesn’t let Martin (or Stanek) off for coming up with a spectacularly bad plan. They’re going to send the princess of Great Kingdom – William’s enemy – into his camp. Hoping against hope they somehow make it past all of the posted guards. And actually find William’s tent, among hundreds. And then make it past even more guards and get to see him. And then get the opportunity to talk to him. And then convince him of something, when he has no reason to believe them, and they have no evidence to convince him. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that this idiotic scheme would work in real life, but, considering the book that we’re in, I’m guessing it actually will. Instead of giving William a prime hostage he would then use against Great Kingdom.
The guardsmen are all disguised as Sever soldiers. I have no idea where they got Sever uniforms. And I also don’t know why Martin had Vilmos switch clothes with a guard, because then he’d be dressed as a Great Kingdom guard and anyone would immediately spot this.
On the other hand I don’t know why I still expect anything that Stanek writes to even remotely make sense.
We cut back at the actual battle. Valam is chatting with his captains. Apparently, he’s broken through and joined up with Quashan’s defenders. There’s some fairly basic and uninteresting conversation. They’re fighting hard, some people we’ve never heard of are dead, stuff like that. Finally Xith pops up and asks for the floor. It’s granted. Xith exposits that throughout the night the enemy will keep them busy with some light attacks, but they won’t attack with full force until dawn. So they have to attack the enemy right now, or come morning they’ll be totally screwed.
Valam wonders how Xith knows this. Jacob pops in and says that Xith has the divine gift of sight, and if it wasn’t for him Quashan’ would already be destroyed. So. Xith knows what his enemies are going to do before they actually do it, huh? Okay, so why hasn’t Xith been telling them where each individual assault is coming before it happens so they can perfectly counter it? I mean, a skill like that could have already ended this battle.
Anyway, they decide to follow Xith’s advice.
Back to Adrina’s little gang. Vilmos unfurls a Sever banner. Was this Martin’s secret weapon? No idea. But somehow, I doubt carrying a Sever banner will help when you’re dressed like a Great Kingdom soldier.
They walk past tents. So they’ve already passed all the guards, I guess. How? Well, that would be impossible. Maybe Galan teleported them inside.
They find William’s tent by Galan reading the minds of the guards. There are two guards posted. So two of the soldiers with them go up and pretend to be the relief, and the two guards posted there stroll off. Adrina, Galan, and Vilmos start to walk inside, but Vilmos senses the Wolmerrelle. So they decide to wait, but then the camp bursts into an uproar because someone is attacking. So they rush inside. Inside, the two guards that they replaced are dead. Erravane has cut her way inside the tent and is dragging William out through the hole. The other three guards are waiting there and back her into the tent. And Stanek demonstrates his inability to write an action scene:
Erravane spun around. Her eyes were wild. “Princess Adrina, you of all people should not stand in my way. William’s disappearance will most certainly serve you.”
William shouted, “She aims to kill me.”
“Hush, or I’ll rip out your tongue, I will only kill you at the end and though you deserve much anguish for abandoning me, I will do it swiftly” (page 381).
First paragraph: I have no idea why Erravane is talking. Why should she, exactly? She’s mid-transformation into her giant furry form. She’s extremely strong, magically powerful, and has no reason whatsoever to even care that there are three people standing there. There is no logical reason why she should be saying anything to Adrina, not even a ‘Screw you!’
Second paragraph: ‘She aims to kill me’ does not sound like something people scream in a moment of distress. ‘She’s going to kill me’ sounds much more natural and realistic. ‘Aims’ could be used, I suppose, if the character had a very archaic way of talking throughout the entire book, which William doesn’t have.
Third paragraph: Why does Erravane say she’s going to kill him? That’s not something you want to tell someone until they’re tied to a chair and completely helpless, and then not if you want any sort of cooperation. In the words of the great Joss Whedon, “Offering to shoot us don’t work so well as an incentive as you might imagine.” Erravane shouldn’t be talking to him at all. When people with edged weapons are facing off, there’s very little dialogue. And for that matter, Erravane seems exactly like the kind of person who would drag out William’s death for as long as she could. Why is she saying she’ll kill him quickly?
Not to mention that that last sentence is horrifically written; it’s three separate sentences combined into one disgusting run-on sentence.
Then Vilmos steps up. He’s conjuring up blue Force-lightning and he tells Erravane that Xith has already warned her. Erravane is shocked, because she’s looking at the snot-nosed kid who killed her beloved Wolmerrelle. Vilmos walks towards her. She throws William at him and turns to run. Adrina yells at the guards to get out of the way, because she knows if they resist that Erravane will slaughter them. Which makes me wonder why Erravane didn’t slaughter them in the first place and make her escape with William tucked under her arm. But Erravane takes off and escapes.
Sever guards start running in. The soldiers begin to fight, but finally William orders them all to stop. Adrina makes her guards drop their swords. William asks why she saved him. Adrina starts to go weak in the knees and they have to bring a chair for her. Because she’s a Spunky Princess, just as good as a man, right? Anyway, she abandons Martin’s actual plan, which was apparently to find William, trick him, and then convince him of the truth. She doesn’t actually mention what the plan was, probably because there is no earthly plan that would possibly succeed at any of those three things. Finally, she launches into a speech about how she knows exactly what it’s like to be cold and scared and all alone and that Great Kingdom didn’t kill William’s father.
William says that she has no idea what it’s like and orders his guards to kill them all.
So the guards let Adrina’s guards pick up their weapons.
No, seriously. The swords are on the ground. Adrina’s guards are completely defenseless and surrounded by armed men. And instead of leaping forward and stabbing them, they just stand there while Adrina’s guards grab their swords off the ground, and then, instead of attacking, they continue to stand there while Adrina yells at William.
William’s captain tells his men to stand down, that he personally wants to kill them all. So he draws his sword and walks forward and swings his sword at them. And hits…an invisible force field, like from The Incredibles! Yes, Vilmos is saving the day again. And we get an unintentionally dirty quote:
For a moment, the commander stood unmoving, a muscle in his cheek twitched nervously, then he cast aside his sword and began ramming the unseen barrier (page 384).
That sentence is so filthy that they wouldn’t let it air before 9PM. And I’m not just talking about the laws of grammar it violates.
Then Adrina turns and bitch-slaps William.
Apparently she can move through the barrier. Or William is inside it. And none of his guards even try to help him. Adrina starts yelling about how her father doesn’t care about the throne of Sever. She asks William who exactly stands to gain the most from such treachery.
The obvious answer, of course, is William. He inherits the throne and therefore has the most to gain from his father’s death. But I guess the real answer here was supposed to be Jarom, for reasons I cannot fathom, and this convinces William. Even though he has no reason to believe Adrina or assume that King Andrew doesn’t want to rule Sever as well.
Finally William dismisses his guards except for the captain and asks Adrina for some proof that King Jarom killed his father. So Adrina turns to Galan.
Cut forward to the battle. It’s dawn. They’re preparing for Jarom and Sever to attack. Whatever happened to the attack that they were going to launch in the middle of the night? No idea. I guess it wasn’t important, because it isn’t mentioned and didn’t seem to have any effect on events. So mostly it was just Stanek writing nonsense for a couple pages and hoping his readers were too clueless to remember what happened four pages ago.
Seth watches and is worried and then Sever’s army gets up and basically just walks off. They’re kinda stunned for a bit, but then Galan explains via mental-text-message that William knows the truth now and has decided to leave. Not to fight against Jarom, like he should be doing, but just to leave.
So everyone cheers and then they kick Jarom’s ass.
We cut forward to after the battle:
A full celebration was underway (page 388).
Instead, the next three pages are all about the dead and wounded and how Adrina is worried because she cannot find Emel anywhere. Which is fine and dandy, even realistic…but why did Stanek just say that everyone is celebrating, when there is not even a single line about people celebrating?
Oh wait. A couple pages later, they’re still sorting through dead bodies. I’m not joking. They are standing there sorting through piles of corpses and then suddenly three hundred riders come up with Emel leading them. Everyone is ecstatic, except for the corpses, because they’re dead.
Valam comes up and says that Emel’s done well, and he’s going to promote him to Second Captain.
Adrina pointed a finger at Valam. “You knew where he’d been all along didn’t you.” Adrina wiped tears from her cheeks. “And you let me worry and fret -”
“I had a hunch, but I wasn’t certain” (page 390).
So let me get this straight:
You let your little sister spend days wading around through battlefield carnage, digging through piles of fucking corpses looking for her best friend in the entire world, when you had a very good idea that he’s safe and sound and should be arriving shortly?
My God, Valam is a sociopath. There are literally no words to describe how inhumanly evil that is.
I am shocked. I honestly am. I have no idea how someone could write those sentences and not realize what that means.
Seriously. I could stop sporking right now and let this page of text define everything Stanek has ever written, because there’s just no recovering from something like that.
Right. Adrina runs and hugs him and Emel says they were chasing Jarom’s army and Adrina kisses his cheek and Valam tells Emel that he’s Second Captain and everyone is happy. And then the celebration starts.
A surge of celebrants and music came toward them. Dancers and musicians had made their way to the field from Quashan’s many squares, stirring ever more excitement into the already boisterous crowd. Valam, Emel, Adrina, Galan, and Father Jacob found they could do nothing other than join in (page 391).
Let’s not forget that they are standing knee-deep in corpses.
Not joking. The party just started on the battlefield. I’m going to assume there are still standing pools of blood. We know that there are still corpses everywhere, but screw them, here come the dancers and musicians!
And just when I think there is no possible way that this could get any more idiotic, the chapter ends.
The chapter ends?
And we still don’t know what Galan showed William. You know, the proof that Jarom poisoned King Charles. Yeah. That was the entire plotline and driving action for THIS ENTIRE GODDAMN BOOK, and the climax of that entire plotline was one character showing another character dramatic proof, off screen, and we don’t know what that proof is and from everything that we know in the series, no such proof even exists, orcould possibly exist.
The main climax is dismissed with a handwave. And not even a decent handwave that if you thought about really hard you could convince yourself was plausible. Just a piece of nothing that Stanek used because he was too lazy or to uncreative (or both) to write himself out of a difficult situation.
I swear to God you cannot make this shit up.
Chapter Twenty-Nine – Parting Ways
So the celebrations go on for three days and nights. While everyone is rebuilding the city. So some of the people are celebrating (royalty, I assume) while the peasants slave away trying to rebuild all of the broken walls and burned homes. That’s a great way to keep moral up.
Vilmos is getting sick of it. He has servants catering to his every whim and he’s been dressed in rich clothes and all of the attention is making him rather uncomfortable. He also wonders about his parents and hopes that they’re all right. It’s actually kind of a nice moment, especially since characters so rarely think back to the parents they’ve left behind, and this is something that would be particularly hard for Vilmos, being extremely young. Of course, this is made inconsistent by the fact that Vilmos hasn’t been thinking about his parents for the entire book, but I guess it’s the thought that counts.
Xith comes to get him and they head down to see Valam. Xith reminds him to have fun tonight, because tomorrow they’re leaving. Apparently, it’s time for Vilmos to begin his education. This would make more sense if Xith hadn’t spent entire chapters teaching Vilmos how to use magic. You can’t begin something you’ve already started months ago. You can continue it, easily. I suppose what Stanek is trying to do here is make the reader think that everything that Vilmos has been taught thus far was just child’s play, and now it’s time for his real education to begin. Which, if that were the case, would be fine. But, um, spoiler alert, that’s not the case.
Vilmos bumps into Seth and Galan as they head down to the hall, and Galan mentions that they’re leaving as well and going to see King Andrew and Imtal.
They get down to dinner and most of the named characters from the books are sitting around the main table. Adrina asks if he’s coming to Imtal and again, Xith says no. But he adds that Adrina probably has not seen he or Vilmos for the last time. Subtle Foreshadowing!
Valam gets up and gives a toast:
“It is unfortunate that this hall cannot hold each and every soldier presently residing in Quashan’, for, down to the last man -” Adrina cleared her throat “- and woman, they contributed to victory, and none more so than those of you seated here today” (page 395).
This annoys me. Medieval times (and this is obviously a medieval-based fantasy) were extremely sexist. This wasn’t unusual to the inhabitants, they were aware that they lived in an extremely sexist world and the vast, vast majority of them didn’t even think of it as being sexist, because that was the world they grew up in and it was all they knew. Most people thought it was normal and never even tried to set foot outside society’s box. So we have Adrina, who tries to be a Spunky Princess but is (and even admits to herself in a rare moment of honesty) completely helpless and relies on men to take care of her, taking offense at a comment that isn’t actually even offensive. It’s a saying. It’s perfectly reasonable that ‘down to the last man’ would include a woman. Also, Adrina contributed next to nothing to the victory. One could argue that she convinced William to split and saved the day, but she didn’t come up with that plan, and I maintain that anyone could have convinced William by saying the exact same words that she used. Which were words that wouldn’t have worked in real life, of course, but we don’t have to go there. Finally, this is her older brother, he’s standing up giving a speech in front of a lot of important people, and she’s being a little bitch and interrupting him? How about a little courtesy? How about not thinking of yourself? How about keeping your mouth shut when someone of a higher rank is talking, which would actually be realistic?
Anyway. Valam toasts. Then everyone else has to make a toast as well. Finally it gets back to Valam, and he stands up and begins talking about what everyone has done to save the city. He spends half a page going through and listing the main characters of the book, along with their titles. Seriously. Half a page. I don’t know why there couldn’t be a line that says ‘Valam read their names. When it was Vilmos’ turn he flushed red with embarrassment’. The reader knows who they all are, it carries the exact same impact, and it would actually have a bit of character development for good measure. Instead, through half a page, nothing happens.
Stanek is a master of that. It’s a pet peeve of mine. Personally, I hate it when things don’t happen. In books, I’m a big fan of action and dialogue, but I understand when there’s long descriptions of things as well. I usually skim the paragraphs of descriptive texts, because I hate reading them, but I understand their existence. But I absolutely cannot stand parts of books that accomplish absolutely nothing. As I see it, there are roughly four reasons why something should be in a book:
- It advances the plot.
- It develops the characters.
- It helps set the scene in the reader’s mind.
- It’s entertaining.
The last two are obviously the most subjective, with #4 meaning something that the reader will actually enjoy reading – in a comedic book, for example, there might be a paragraph inserted that is not related to any of the characters and is not descriptive, and does nothing for the plot or characters, but it’s funny, and so it contributes to the reader’s enjoyment of the book. Stanek has a rather incredible talent for writing entire scenes that somehow manage to avoid all four of these reasons. It’s almost as if his writing process is ‘Hmm, what happens next? Well, I guess this character could do X’ and then he writes about it just because he has nothing else to write about and since nobody edits his books there is no one to excise it later.
Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly what he does.
Valam then exposits that Adrina is will be going back to Imtal, carrying a scroll from him to his father, however, he needs to stay in the South. But Seth and Galan will be traveling with her. Wait, how is this news? More importantly, why is this being announced at a feast? This is not something that is even remotely on-topic, plus, there’s a number of reasons why you wouldn’t want to announce at a large assembly that the Princess is leaving and traveling to a particular location. Security reasons and all that. Regardless, Valam is giving a speech about how all these people are heroes and then he stops and starts talking about someone’s travel arrangements. It’s a clever way to pass information along to the reader though, if by clever you mean ‘Not talented enough to get the information across another way’. To be fair though, it took me awhile before I learned to start cleverly inserting exposition. I think I was at least sixteen.
Then again, he doesn’t even need this exposition, as the previous scene with Adrina being upset Vilmos wasn’t coming with her clued us in to the fact that she was heading back to Imtal.
Suddenly, the doors open and the Baron of Klaive walks in with his family, including his son, Rudden. I’m pretty sure you’ve forgotten, but Rudden happens to be the chap Adrina’s betrothed to. Adrina is stunned and immediately starts to try to slip underneath the table, even after Rudden sits down directly across from her.
Then she seemed to notice Emel, as Vilmos did just then. Emel was clearly jealous of the tall, good-looking southerner. Emel also seemed about ready to pull the arms off the high-backed chair he sat in.
Adrina’s pout relaxed, faded, then she burst into laughter. Valam was quick to join in, as did most everyone else around the table, even Rudden who seemed a good sport (page 398).
So. Emel has the hots for Adrina. Pretty much no one knows this. He is jealous when her betrothed shows up. Which nobody would notice, since Emel isn’t giving any signs that anyone would clue into unless they already know. And yet Stanek expects us to believe that almost everyone at this table would notice (unlikely), find it amusing (unheard of), and then burst out laughing (flatly impossible). Also, why is she pouting? I don’t think that word means what you think it means, Stanek.
Afterwards, Vilmos changes back into his old clothes, which have been mended. He chats with Xith for a bit, and Xith confirms again that his education is ‘beginning’, which is not true. Valam strolls in. They chat for a bit and Valam gives them a scroll granting them safe passage throughout Great Kingdom and that also says that they are lawful magicians. Which is a nice thought, at least.
Valam leaves and Xith pulls out a staff that he was whittling, back in the day. I don’t remember this but I concede it might have happened and I could have forgotten. Xith explains that the staff is an extension of Vilmos.
“Take it,” Xith said, “and you will set your feet irreversibly upon the path to becoming the first Human Magus in five hundred years. What you have learned so far are simple cantrips to a true Mage. But be warned, you, Vilmos, are different. Just as I did not know if your dreams were truly gone, I do not know where the end of this path will take us” (page 401).
Irreversibly? I doubt that. People can stop with things pretty much whenever they want to, regardless of the circumstances.
Why is Human capitalized?
Cantrips? Really? I’m aware that it’s supposedly a real word, why the hell is Stanek throwing it into a kids’ book?
And, of course, VILMOS IS SPESHUL.
Vilmos takes the staff, of course. Xith lays down on his bed to sleep. Vilmos asks him if Imtal is truly as great as Adrina has been saying. To totally change the subject. And…Xith doesn’t answer.
Then the book ends.